READERS TELL ALL.
RAZORBLADE TEARS by SA Cosby
I vacillate. Some days I want to say, "Shawn is my best friend" because let's be real, that's everyone's dream. I want to shake some people when they say he was "discovered" and don't recognize that everything he's ever written, including his writing prior to Blacktop Wasteland, was amazing. I have very rarely been able to read a book so many times when it deals with mortuaries, as I won't even eat on the same street as a funeral home. However, this book, Razorblade Tears, serves as more than a fine follow up to Blacktop Wastleland, and a worthy addition to his own canon, but it's possibly Cosby's best work yet. When I read the description initially about a black father and grandfather avenging the murders of their gay sons, two different races from two different backgrounds, I almost gasped. That kind of gasp when you're like wow, I didn't think of this? Or more like, How could anyone think of this but Shawn? Yes, there are some downsides to the book, like the cliched setup you may see by the time you reach the end, but no one is writing about race or any topical issue as critical and necessary as SA Cosby. This book was something I didn't just read while walking, but if there was a traffic stop with no end in sight, I pulled it out. If I was unable to find anything to do for a few minutes (or looking for a few minutes to spare), I read this book. I took this book with me nearly everywhere, and I passed through an extremely difficult and also divine period in my life remind gate novel in the city where it is set. If you need more background on the novel: the world is fucked. If you need more background: most writers penning The Great American Novel About Civil Rights cannot write for shit, but Cosby is one of the grand exceptions, and someone who can occupy the mindset and roles of others outside himself in ways nearly no other author can, other than fellow powerhouses Laura Lippman, Attica Locke, Steph Cha, Megan Abbott, and a few others. He is able to access the idea of an interracial gay couple being murdered (and make them human, make them more than victims, and not create some grand scheme in order for us to understand how fucked it is they were killed for being gay and two different races in love) and also the mindsets of these people, of the people who hate them (while still astonishing in his ability to make them almost seem human), the development of the white grandfather/father who is so incredibly diverse and reminds me of a backcountry character ripped out of an alternate version of the script of Terms of Endearment, the film, which is honestly one of the greatest compliments I can give. Ike, arguably the protagonist in the novel (in film school we are forced to challenge ourselves and each other and decide who THE protagonist of a novel or film is, and ourselves to choose one, even if the book or movie passes as a sot of buddy novel, as does this one). There's so much weight in this novel. There's so much humor. The novel is a masterclass on escalating tension, maintaining suspense, building grand characters, and destroying expectations of any and every reader. It's a book you should not miss, and yes, I did recommend it to a studio as a good version of No Country for Old Men. These are country people, black and white. They are the people I knew and grew up with--my black best friend, a successful businesswoman no one ever immediately realizes is a lawyer. My malicious family members (I won't mention which side of my family but I'm sure you can guess), who justify hate, who have defended the KKK, but who weren't rich enough to join the KKK (something I always laugh about, even if it sounds horrible--the fact that they weren't only viciously defensive of the KKK, but that the KKK treats itself as a sort of country club for white men who hate everyone else). Cosby has provided an outlet for me, a gay man involved in an interracial engagement that eventually led to its own demise in a different sort of violence, striking home in a way that is so hard to describe and believe, but trust me, you'll want to read this book to find out why. There is no post-racist America. That's like saying there was ever a pre-racist America. This goes for homophobia, sexism, transphobia, and so many other forms of hate we are just in recent years starting to say, "Hey, that's not OK to talk about in that way," better yet in Cosby's case where he takes this career that keeps rising and escalating and building on his own pure talent and provide a socially controversial and important novel and--best reason to buy the novel yet--he doesn't let his readers down. He's someone I hope will allow me to interview him again in the (very near) future, and he's someone who everyone should read. If Blacktop Wasteland was the breakthrough Max Max film for Cosby, consider this motherfucking Fury Road with its own unique, troubled, and at many times triumphant protagonist Ike. You won't forget him. So here's to SA Cosby, and you can preorder Razorblade Tears and his other novels here. I do not believe My Darkest Prayer is listed here for some reason, so find that too. Immediately.
FIGHT NIGHT by Miriam Toews
Big surprise here: Writers can save lives. I know that Miriam Toews has saved my life twice. First, after multiple attempts to take my own life, All My Puny Sorrows became the book that seemed to redeem me, that put the humor in mental illness, and made it so real. Some claimed it was a book with no plot (although still genius) that only Toews could make work, and perhaps that's true. Her most recent book, other than the upcoming Fight Night, is Women Talking, the plainly worded title that features one of the most marvelous books of the century so far. We see women discussing men who have raped them in their sleep, and the impossible consequences they have to face-all while coping with this humor, and me coping with being sexually and physically assaulted, and seeing a sort of joy in life past the destruction. This is not a Mitch Album novel. I do not mean her humor makes the wound better. I mean the humor makes the wound real, something we modern people (especially Americans) cannot seem to understand--that we can hurt, that we can change, that we can evolve, and all of this is OK. In her new book Fight Night, which I found less charming but still better than most other books because it is, after all, Miriam Toews, she talks about the life of a young girl (told from this girl's POV) that echoes the voice and influence of writers like Aimee Bender (who is also a favorite writer, a phenomenal storyteller, and the one woman I have always wanted to be best friends with--but doesn't everyone?). The book focuses largely on three generations: grandmother, mother, granddaughter, and the mother being quiet while the grandmother may be dying, and may even wish to die. In some ways a challenge to Jojo Moyes' Me Before You, but also in agreement with it to an extent, Toews writes about the end of suffering, the peace you can find within. Don't go me wrong. The book is fairly predictable, the characters are dynamic but life changing, and this rates nowhere near her other novels. However, I don't think anyone could have kept me captivated for so many pages with really no sturdy plot outside of Toews, who presents to us a young girl learning about the world, but more importantly seeing and understanding more clearly through her seeing but not understanding. We learn about life because she is unable to wrap her mind around concepts, because she is trying to figure things out, and because she lives in pop culture sometimes, in the legends her grandmother tells earnestly and others completely fabricated. The book is what you expect, but it's how Toews tells the story that's what makes the book unique. Her voice, as well as the voice of Swiv, the protagonist, is so unique, and the characters we see like with the grandmother are so interesting, including the grandmother's willingness to live forever despite wanting to die to avoid pain and suffering. All of this is understandable, along with her mother who can be hilarious and heartbreaking at times, the secrets we learn about her, the honesty in her life, and also the lack of male characters for most of the book is a definite plus. The book is a slick read--slick being one of the few words to be able to describe it, with Toews focusing on sliding through a story and a life and letting the reader propel too, despite the lack of a strict plot, but isn't that life? Isn't this how life goes, and isn't this how life ends? To be cliche: and does it end? Because if the universe is infinite, there is no beginning, and there is no end, and no matter what you believe, the idea of infinite provides the reader with some sort of grace much needed in times like these. Preorder/buy the novel here. Buy Aimee Bender's most recent novel here. Both novels are brilliant, lovely, wonderful, and enlightening, and it's hard to imagine a better use of your dollars (if you have some spare change around) spent on anything more unique and special than books by Toews, and also Bender as well. (Please note both have multiple books you should check out.)
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.